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Roscoe Nathan Pound Edit Profile

educator , scholar

Nathan Roscoe Pound was a distinguished American legal scholar and educator. He was Dean of University of Nebraska College of Law from 1903 to 1911 and then Dean of Harvard Law School from 1916 to 1936. The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Pound as one of the most cited legal scholars of the 20th century.


Pound was born on October 27, 1870 in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States to Stephen Bosworth Pound and Laura Pound.


From his father, a lawyer, he may have derived some of his political conservatism, and from his mother, a college graduate, he received encouragement for his ardent intellectual curiosity.

At one time he specialized in botany, earning a PH. D. degree in that field from the University of Nebraska and making significant scholarly contributions.

His interests had earlier turned to law, and he spent a year as a student in the Harvard Law School (1889 - 1890).


Despite his vast learning, he remained true to his vigorous, kindly, and optimistic Middle Western culture.

Returning to Nebraska, he was admitted to the bar and practiced law.

Pound’s philosophy of law was influenced by Hegel’s philosophy of historical evolution.

From William James, as well as from Hegel, he was led toward an evaluative theory of law based on the selection, reconciliation, and compromise of conflicting claims.

From the sociology of Lester F. Ward and Edward A. Ross he obtained some of his enduring ideas.

From Ross (1901), Pound seems to have derived his view of law as only one means of social control, but Pound expressly rejected the theory of social instincts, on which Ross relied.

In his famous 1906 address to the American Bar Association, which aroused a storm of protest, Pound attacked the complacency of lawyers who mechanically follow outmoded rules of judicial procedure.

In 1907 there appeared another influential address, “The Need of a Sociological Jurisprudence. ”

Then came three of his best-known articles, each of which attacked some aspects of the common law and its American developments.

In “Law in Books and Law in Action” (1910) he showed the disparity between the legal rules as to liability for personal injuries and the verdicts of juries, thus preparing the way for workmen’s compensation laws, which abolished the common law defenses of employers (contributory negligence, assumption of risk, and the fellow-servant rule), imposed strict liability for industrial accidents, and dispensed with jury trials. Pound presented a more systematic treatment of these problems in a series of articles on sociological jurisprudence (1911–1912).

He cited law and legal theory from American, from medieval, and from modern English and continental European sources and from Roman law.

He was dean of law from 1916 until 1936, when he became a University professor.

Although he acknowledged his indebtedness to Oliver Wendell Holmes for this “functional conception of jurisprudence”, Pound elaborated the idea and made it his own.

The list of legal means is never exhausted.

Since law is only one means of social control, the lawmaker needs to study the social effects of legal institutions and legal doctrines in relation to these other controls: a sociology of law.

Pound’s admiration of Eugen Ehrlich’s work in legal sociology gained Ehrlich many American followers.

The studies of William U. Moore, Herman Oliphant, William O. Douglas, and other American legal realists were partly inspired by this new philosophy. Pound believed that professional study of the means of making legal precepts effective would lead to better remedies: money damages cannot adequately recompense the badly injured employee; rehabilitation training is a better means of restitution.

Practical results, however, often have a shorter life than do ideas.

From Bentham and Jhering he took the idea of interest as a basic element of legal protection: a right is a legally protected interest.

He shared Jhering’s view that society is supreme and the state should be subordinated to it.

Lawmaking and adjudication are processes in which a balancing of interests or a reconciliation of competing claims takes place; so dominant are the social interests that individual interests are entitled to protection only to the extent that one or more social interests will be furthered or maintained.

Pound was a patient and optimistic idealist.

His theory of social interests is much less radical than it seems at first reading.

Pound’s concept of the five stages of legal history resulted from his search for the ends of law, as developed in legal rules and doctrines.

In ancient Rome, in this stage, the head of the family alone had full legal personality, and in the corresponding English stage the wife and minor children were in subjection to the husband-father.

In Roman law this came about in the classical period, from Augustus to the early part of the third century A. D. , and in England and continental Europe the corresponding transition came about in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In this and many other ways the formal rigors of the earlier period were diminished, and so was the emphasis upon security. A revival of this emphasis brought about the fourth stage, the maturity of law, in which the undue fluidity of law, resulting from the infusion of morals, was gradually corrected and the law became more stable without sacrificing all of the modifications effected in the preceding stage.

As Pound said, history does not repeat itself in mere cycles but moves upward in spirals.

In the nineteenth century in England, security and equality were reconciled in the safeguarding of the property and contracts of individuals.

A similar stage is said to have been reached in Roman law, and in nineteenth-century Continental law. The socialization of law, the fifth period, brought out the emphasis on social interests rather than on individual interests, the limitations on property and contract, and many types of social legislatio.

The dependence of law upon sociology and other social sciences was emphasized in Pound’s earlier writings and was repeated in a recent essay.

Yet the social phenomena from which he derived his social interests were chiefly legal phenomena (1943), and only in his survey of crime did he turn to criminological data.

In his best work he found his own fertile insights to be sufficient, without benefit of any conclusions derived from an empirical sociology.

He retired in 1947.


  • The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Pound as one of the most cited legal scholars of the 20th century.


He had a dauhgter, Vera Marie Pound.

Vera Marie Pound